Carly Rae Jepsen: polished pop that punches hardest on record
Carly Rae Jepsen hadn’t been in London for 18 months, but she was back. The Canadian pop star has been keeping her British fans hungry since before the pandemic. There were whispers of a new record in 2022, but so far, no dice. For some, it has felt like a very long time.
They were among the throng who relished the fading heat in Somerset House’s courtyard on Monday night; mostly older millennials unabashedly wearing Jepsen t-shirts, very short shorts and the ghosts of a Glastonbury tan. Jeppo, as some of them call the 36-year-old former Canadian Idol runner-up, commands this kind of crowd: grown-up, queer, up for a laugh. I stood behind a man who was wearing a croissant as an earring.
Chances are you’d recognise her break-out hit, Call Me Maybe, which appeared in 2012 and swiftly dominated the charts in 18 countries. In the decade since, Jepsen has released clever, arty pop when she wants to release it, rather than at the relentless demands of an avaricious label. Emotion in 2015, Dedicated in 2019: brimming with lyrics as heart-wrenching as they are simple and hooks no less catchy for being off-kilter.
It’s this pop – so good, for listening to in a bedroom or a car passenger seat, for singing along to in the shower – that she blasted through on Monday. Sixteen songs in a neat 60 minutes; almost as if she was watching the building’s clock from the stage. She appeared – tiny, only 5ft2in – to the spectral thrum of No Drug Like Me, in a lace catsuit and shaggy, ice-blonde mullet, and there she stayed, unleashing banger after banger, a relentless rattle through 10 years of songwriting.
Somerset House shows are as much about the location as they are the show. On heatwave nights like Monday’s even the seagulls can look majestic, uplit by the pulsing lights from the stage. But it can mean artists scrimp on their own theatrics. It’s rare to see a pop artist stripped off the wizardry that usually accompanies them.
Exposing, too. Jepsen is undoubtedly a polished performer. Her songs ripple with glissando, and she delivered the octave-scaling Want You In My Room effortlessly – bulked up with a saxophone solo and a little dance routine, it was a surprise hit of the night.
But overall the show felt flat, as if Jepsen – so close you could see her run off into the wings of Somerset House if you timed your visit to the loo right – was nevertheless at a remove. Her patter sounded like it had been said dozens of times before. The campy choreography was fun to watch, but almost did the emotional heft of her music a disservice.
Jepsen’s songs prioritise feeling and the addictive chase of it. She wants to cut to it, not just the feeling of love but of yearning – for soft rain and dark rooms and limbs all in tangles – and this is potent on record in a way it just wasn’t on stage.
It’s a mark of back catalogue confidence that Call Me Maybe – a song other artists might have reserved for the encore – appeared 25 minutes into the set. But an even more inspired move happened when Jepsen followed that sugar rush with the softer maturity of her latest single, 2021’s Westen Wind. Some, having heard the big hit, drifted off to the bar, but those who stayed got an insight into how Jepsen has shaped modern pop in a moment. Here it was, all of the raw heart that pulses through Jepsen’s music, in those tugging vocal skitters and progressive piano chords; brilliance beneath a mackerel sky.